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HMHS student wins local Shakespeare competition

Sophomore Edwards headed to New York for nationals in April

Haddonfield Memorial High School sophomore Katrina Edwards poses with her certificate of achievement after winning the ESU Princeton Shakespeare competition on Feb. 24. Edwards will head to New York in late April for the nationals. (Photo credit: Kimberly Dickstein/Special to the Sun)

Haddonfield Memorial High School sophomore Katrina Edwards, who is busy with a full course load and preparing for her role as the tomboy Anybodys in the upcoming production of “West Side Story,” found time to participate in the ESU Princeton Shakespeare competition on Feb. 24.

The Princeton Branch of the English-Speaking Union is one of 68 local branches of the ESU of the United States, a nonprofit, non-political, educational organization formally organized in 1920. It shares a mission with more than 50 nations with English-Speaking Union organizations, both in the developed and developing world and its primary goal is one of educational outreach and the usage of the English language to promote international understanding, friendship and goodwill.

Guided by HMHS English teacher Kimberly Dickstein, who is a fervent supporter of the Bard and teaches his work to her students with frequent role-playing instruction, Edwards became the first student in school history to finish in first place during the competition. She will head to New York City to compete in the nationals next month.

Required to perform one sonnet and speech from Shakespeare’s works, Edwards chose to recite Sonnet 130 (“My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun…”), and Shylock’s monologue from “The Merchant of Venice.”

“Earlier this year in Ms. Dickstein’s class, we read ‘Merchant’ and I really enjoyed it. Most importantly, Shylock’s monologue in which he asks, ‘Hath not a Jew eyes?’ really spoke to me. It is such an emotional moment for the character, at the point in the play where he realizes he lost everything in his life, even his daughter,” she said.

“The feelings of anger and sadness he displays at this moment are something everyone can relate to, which is really cool, considering the play was written in 1600. I chose Sonnet 130 because it is more of a funny piece, and I wanted to show my comedic skills alongside a very dramatic monologue.”

Edwards said preparing for both required a lot of hard work and memorization because of the unique feel of each piece. In her estimation, the sonnet was more involved with memorizing rhyme scheme and flow of the poem — adding emphasis on certain words, but not fully acting it out. For the monologue, she felt she had to act and emote more, since there was more of a character.

Despite being a newcomer to the Shakespeare Club, and after encouragement from Ms. Dickstein and some of her classmates, she entered the school’s competition back in December, in which a sonnet and a monologue were required. Dickstein and a few other teachers judged at the school competition, where she also placed first, and her friend Antony Post finished second.

Edwards and Post then moved up to the state level, which took place at Princeton. She worked with Dickstein closely, before and after school, and even one day when school wasn’t in session, toward improving her performance.

“On the day of the competition at Princeton, I felt prepared, but was still super nervous! It was held at The Lawrenceville School, and there were about 17 contestants, I believe. Everyone was given a number, and we had to wait until it was our turn to perform. While we were waiting, we watched all of the other students, which was pretty nerve-wracking. However, once I got started, I wasn’t nervous anymore because I was so focused and totally in the moment,” she admitted.

Edwards said she will perform the same sonnet and monologue for the national competition. With previous performances in her pocket, she feels comfortable with both, and thinks they each accurately demonstrate different facets of her abilities.

“Working with Ms. Dickstein on this and participating in the competition at Princeton have both been such different, fun experiences for me,” she said. “I’ve never really had any Shakespearean acting experience, but I’ve loved reading Shakespeare’s plays in school, and I also love acting, so I just think I had a lot of fun with it. It was a big surprise to come in first, but I can’t wait to perform.”

The ESU National Shakespeare Competition will take place from Apr. 28–30 at Lincoln Center. First prize is a scholarship and airfare to attend Royal Academy of Dramatic Art Young Actors’ Summer School in London. Second prize is a scholarship and airfare to attend the American Shakespeare Center Theatre Camp in Staunton, Va., and third prize is $500. For more information, visit: https://www.esuus.org/esu/programs/shakespeare_competition/.

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